More Than Three Centuries Later, Restorators Revealed Hidden Cupid of Vermeer Painting

Restoration of Vermeer Painting in Germany Reveals Hidden Image of Cupid

Restorers have uncovered a depiction of Cupid in Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, which is kept in Dresden. Cupid is portrayed in a painting hanging in the girl’s room. For more than three centuries it was painted over with gray paint, and the viewer could only see an empty wall.

Vermeer painted this painting around 1659. It was part of the collection of Victor Amadeus I of Savoy, and then in 1742 was bought by the Elector of Saxony August III and ended up in Dresden. For a long time, Rembrandt was mistakenly considered the author of the painting, and only in 1859, it turned out that it belonged to the brush of Vermeer.

When the painting arrived in Dresden, Cupid was already painted over. X-rays revealed its presence in 1979, but researchers at the time believed that the figure was painted over by Vermeer himself, and did not correct the author’s will. When a new comprehensive restoration began in 2017, the researchers removed the old yellowed layer of varnish and found that the paint in the central part of the wall was significantly different in its properties from the paint in other parts of the painting. This stimulated further research into paint layers, which revealed a layer of dirt and a binder between the original Vermeer’s paint and the layer of paint that Cupid had been coated with. Several decades passed between the completion of the work and the painting of Cupid.

In early 2018, experts decided to remove the gray paint from Cupid. The ultrathin layer had to be removed under magnification with a small scalpel. No other method would have preserved the last coat of varnish applied by Vermeer’s hand. The work progressed slowly, but Cupid returned earlier this year. As a result, the composition of the picture has changed significantly. The Cupid painting takes up most of the empty space on the gray wall and creates a new dark background for the girl’s golden hair. Cupid himself is about half the size of the girl. He holds a bow on his left side and arrows in his right hand.

On September 10 a new exhibition will take place in Dresden where the updated picture will be presented, as well as a number of other works of the artist.

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